It took one hour for a jury to acquit Maine State Prison inmate Franklin Higgins of two attempted murder charges stemming from an incident in 2011 resulting in another inmate's death.

Inmate Lloyd Franklin Millett died of heart disease two weeks after sustaining injuries caused by blunt force trauma to his head. Higgins does not deny that he hit Millett.

Both men were convicted murderers.

The defense team of Jeremy Pratt and Philip Cohen said Millett was a sizable man that attempted to assert dominance over other prisoners through fear and intimidation. They said he and a gang — called soldiers — ran an extortion ring inside the prison and said their client was targeted.

Cohen said his client acted in self defense in May 2011 when he hit Millett in the head with a 29-inch pipe clamp in the prison wood shop where both men worked.

In closing arguments, Cohen said he didn't regard Millett as a mere bully, but as a vicious killer.

Higgins testified that on that day, Millett grabbed him, and Higgins had turned and swung the clamp as an immediate reaction. When Higgins became aware it was Millett who grabbed him, he saw Millett positioned in a "football stance" when he hit him again.

Cohen blasted two inmate testimonies for the prosecution, saying they were not credible as the prisoners had requested transfer to other institutions if they agreed to testify as eye witnesses in the case.

One inmate, he said, couldn't keep his story straight about what he did following the attack.

One inmate's interview with Maine State Police in August was not recorded by detective Abbe Chabot, to which Cohen asked rhetorically, nobody in the prison, with their own investigative unit, could lend a recorder?

In closing remarks, Cohen referred to the testimony of Chabot, when she said a polygraph test administered to an inmate, who was a witness for the state, was inconclusive. The polygraph questions asked whether the other inmate hit Millett with the clamp.

His work station was in close proximity to Millett's work station at the time of the altercation and Cohen said perhaps that inmate decided to hit Millett once he was already down, as he had also been a subject of Millett's brutality.

The defense reminded jurors that Higgins, though incarcerated, is subject to the same rights and protections of the law and deserves the same verdict as any individual.

Assistant Attorney General Leane Zainea, in her closing statement, said Higgins was angry at the abuse he endured under Millett, — a man, she said, who was not a nice person.

She said Millett had been a tormentor, threatening Higgins with shears, scissors and had also assaulted him the day before Millett was fatally injured.

She called the May assault on Millett vigilante justice.

"Instead of going to guards and putting a stop to it, [Higgins] took matters into his own hands," she said.

Zainea referred to an interview during which Higgins told Chabot he was not a coward, saying he did not want to be labeled as a rat or a coward in prison. Zainea said in order to be spared the retaliation from such labels, he attempted to kill Millett.

She said it was a plan — not an act of self-defense — when Higgins walked to Millett's work station and hit him.

Zainea added that blood spatter patterns at the scene determined Millett was bleeding and on the ground when he was hit again following the initial blow that sent him to the ground.

A pool of blood was found at the base of the band saw Millett was operating.

Zainea said there was no blood found six to eight feet away from Millett's work area, where Higgins said the attack occurred.

Cohen countered and said there was no blood found on Higgins' shoes, which is odd if he was to have hit Millett while he was crumpled on the floor, as suggested by the prosecution.

Zainea said the jury must find Higgins guilty of the charges if he could have retreated and didn't, and if he did not face deadly force from Millett.

Millett, she said, did not have a weapon, and added Higgins provoked the altercation with Millett by walking by his work area when he could have taken an alternate route back to his own work station.

If Higgins had been fearful for his life, he would not have avoided a confrontation with Millett, she said, adding, "you don't bring a pipe clamp to a fist fight."

Cohen later responded that with Millett's impressive size and gumption to assault and harass other convicted murders, one would be a fool not to protect themselves.

The trial began on Monday, March 18 and ended Friday, March 22.

Courier Publications reporter Juliette Laaka can be reached at 594-4401 ext. 118 or via email at jlaaka@courierpublicationsllc.com.